In Our View: Dereliction of Duty

Herrera Beutler’s silence on vital issue of gun violence disservice to her district

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If airplanes were frequently falling out of the sky, Americans would expect Congress to take notice and take action. The same would be expected if drinking water were poisoned, or there was a spike in traffic fatalities, or something else was endangering our health and welfare.

Congress has a duty to confront difficult problems, and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, is abdicating that duty by ignoring questions about gun violence and how to deal with it.

Last week, Columbian reporter Katy Sword wrote that she contacted the congresswoman’s office three times in the wake of a Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people and, “At each instance in lieu of a stance, I’ve been told the representative will review any gun control bill if it comes up for a vote.” Meanwhile, The Seattle Times contacted members of Washington’s congressional delegation about gun violence, and all responded except Herrera Beutler.

Ignoring the issue of gun violence will not make it go away. More than 30,000 Americans are killed annually by gunshots, with more than half of those being suicides. Gun violence should be treated as a public health crisis, and constituents in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District deserve — and should demand — to know where their representative stands on this pressing issue. Herrera Beutler’s Washington, D.C., office can be reached at 202-225-3536; her local office is at 360-695-6292.

Herrera Beutler, who is in her fourth term as a representative, in the past has received an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association for her support of gun rights. That would seem to give her bona fide conservative credentials, but she also has been criticized by some members of her party for not being conservative enough.

Although Herrera Beutler has faced pressure from some in her party, she has had the courage to take a stand on highly charged issues. Earlier this year, she was one of 20 House Republicans to vote against a GOP attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. She should demonstrate the same kind of courage regarding gun violence, regardless of where she stands on various proposals; remaining silent on the issue reflects political cowardice and poorly serves her constituents.

The United States is afflicted with gun violence unseen in other developed nations, and it is long past time for meaningful discussion. Silence should not be regarded as a viable option for any thoughtful American, let alone one who sits in a seat of power.

No combination of measures will eliminate gun violence or mass shootings, but some reasonable steps must be considered while still protecting Second Amendment rights. The NRA and some Republican leaders have said they will consider the banning of “bump stocks,” which allow a semi-automatic weapon to act like an automatic weapon and which were used to increase the carnage in Las Vegas. This is an obvious step but one that represents the low-hanging fruit of the debate.

Congress also should begin work to ban semi-automatic weapons, reinstating a prohibition that was in place from 1994 to 2004. It should eliminate background-check loopholes that allow for purchases at gun shows or through online sales — a step that has been taken in our state. And it should allow the Centers for Disease Control to study mass shootings and work to prevent them.

We think these are common-sense measures, but Herrera Beutler’s opinion of them is more important. She should share her thoughts instead of ignoring the questions.